Tuesday, February 14, 2017

High-Rent Blight at 4th & Bank

There used to be a laundromat on West 4th and Bank. I often took its picture because it seemed like a particularly poignant laundromat, especially at night. The laundress would stand working in the window, folding clothing. She had a habit of hanging the peels of clementines to dry on the window's grillwork, creating flowery shapes. At Christmastime, she'd hang candy canes.

One day, her window was gone. The Marc Jacobs children's store next door expanded into it. And then, this past spring, the whole laundromat vanished.

Its boutique replacement is called Le Labo, manufacturers of fine perfumery.

Everything is faux rustic and old-timey artisanal, right down to the "lab technicians," who wear waxed canvas aprons imported all the way from Brooklyn.

They've got a scent diffuser made from an Edison bulb and a hunk of wood that's been "forged from the reclaimed wood of New York’s water tanks." It sells for $590. Everything in Le Labo is pricey. Like their Concrete Candle, "another result," they say, "of our obsession with craftsmanship. It has been poured in our lab in Mississippi and its concrete vessel has been handcrafted in California." It comes in a shipping crate "inspired from shipping crates." It sells for $450.

If you find the prices shocking, you can't say you weren't warned. On their window, Le Labo sports the following quote attributed to Thomas Edison: "We will make electricity so cheap that only the rich will burn candles."

Yankee Candle proves that wrong, but it's not the actual quote. Edison wasn't trying to elevate the candle's socioeconomic status. What he originally said in 1880 was: "After the electric light goes into general use, none but the extravagant will burn tallow candles."

Since I wrote up this post a couple of months ago, the Marc Jacobs children's store--the one that encroached into the laundress' space--has shuttered. It sits empty with windows blackened.

Across Bank Street, a space that was most recently--and very briefly--Hamilton's soda fountain also sits empty and for rent.

And next to that is yet another empty space. This one was a coffee place that took over when the great Left Bank Books got the boot, along with its laundromat neighbor. Now the coffee place is kaput.

Left Bank moved a few blocks away, but couldn't make it and shuttered that spot last year, just like many displaced small businesses. They've been replaced by a designy shop "born out of a palpable void in the lifestyle market for quality, accessible, home goods." And how long do you think that's going to last before high-rent blight comes to claim it?

So, to circle back, we once had a bookstore and a couple of laundromats that served a necessary function and had been around for ages. And now we've got three empty shops next to a shop full of extravagance that will likely be empty in another year or two.

Meanwhile, I miss the bookstore. And the woman with the orange peels. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Liberty House


Liberty House, at 112th and Broadway, is vanishing after 49 years in business. And it's no ordinary local shop.

photo: Jed Egan, New York magazine

It is the last of its kind, a small chain of New York shops first organized in 1965 by Abbie Hoffman and other civil rights workers in Mississippi to sell goods made by poor women of color, with the profits going back to the original communities, and to support the Civil Rights Movement.

I talked to co-owner Martha who told me the shop will shutter at the end of April. They'll be having a sale until then, from 20% to 50% off.

This time, it's not the rent. "People aren't shopping," Martha said. "They're going online. It's convenient. They tell me, 'I can sit at home and shop in my pajamas.' But people have to shop local or else there won't be any stores anymore."

photo via Liberty House Facebook page

The second-to-last Liberty House shuttered in 2007, also on the Upper West Side. It was a victim of rising rents.

Back then, a customer told the Times, “I don’t know how you stop these people. They’re throwing everyone out right and left, and it’s going to be a neighborhood of Duane Reades and Godiva chocolates. This store should have made it.”

Said one of the shop's partners, “The diversity of people, both incomes and interests, has lessened and we have more of what we used to call upwardly mobile people, who shop online or drive to malls, or get in cabs and go to Barneys.”

At this last Liberty House, Martha asks everyone to go up, buy something, and say goodbye to this piece of New York's history, a shop dedicated to liberation and economic justice--something we need now more than ever. They say farewell on their Facebook page:

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Andre Opening

Recently, I watched "My Dinner with Andre" for the first time. It begins in the most promising way. The camera follows Wallace Shawn as he walks downtown, along Canal Street past the old electronics and junk shops, past vanished Pearl Paint.

He gets on the grubby old subway and heads uptown, all while voice-over narrating the daily challenges of the actor's life--no work, no money, just a mailbox full of bills and a lot of errands involving stationery and xerox shops.

Then he gets to the actual dinner with Andre and it's a different movie (the restaurant scene was filmed on a set in Richmond, Virginia), which is fine, but I found myself wishing the whole thing was more like the opening, which you can watch right here:

P.S. Here's what Pearl Paint looks like today--the sign has been completely removed:

Monday, February 6, 2017

The New Quad

A couple of years ago, the great little Quad cinema closed, sold to real-estate developer Charles S. Cohen--but with plans to renovate and use it to film selections from the Cohen Film Collection.

In this month's Surface magazine, there's an interview with Cohen about what's coming for the Quad.

According to the magazine, the cinema will reopen in April, after an extensive renovation that includes a wine bar, and it will be co-run by C. Mason Wells, the former film programmer for IFC.

“I always wanted a theater,” Cohen told Surface. “I tried to buy several different chains, but I was never successful. It was an opportunity to do something and use different skills—design, real estate, film."

One of the four screens at the Quad will be dedicated to classic films. The whole thing will be "a curated experience," with "soul."

“I think it’s going to be a game changer,” said Cohen. “I think it’s going to be one of the best places to see film in New York. The programmers will create a new standard. It’s what New York is missing.”

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Carnegie Deli Sign II

Yesterday, we watched the Carnegie Deli sign get taken apart.

Today, Tweet Ulrich tweeted this heartbreaking shot of it being carted away.

The building is coming down. Mega-developer Extell is buying it.

On and on and on it goes.

Chumley's RIP

The powers-that-be have body-snatched Chumley's. Like they've done to so many of our classic joints. It happened to Minetta's, to Fedora and Rocco's, the Lion and the Waverly Inn. They tried doing it to John's of 12th Street, but were foiled.

Writing on the trend, the Times in 2010 noted that the Village "has become like a theme park of the past, as these restored standards offer a vision of a lost bohemian New York — albeit with a well-heeled clientele and prices to match."

"Authentrification" is one word for it. Wrote Alexandria Symonds in 2011 of upscale businesses that authentrify: "in their quest for authenticity, they’re seizing on elements that represent the area’s past and repurposing them as a design scheme."

photo: Alex Smith - Flaming Pablum

I don't have to go to Chumley's to know what's happened to it, but in case you need a first-hand account, here's Pete Wells in the Times this week:

"If you heard that Chumley’s is open again, you were misinformed. The dim, spare, beer-scented hideaway in the West Village is gone, torn down, not coming back. At its old address is a restaurant that has nothing in common with the original except a name, a door, an archway and framed photographs of, and jackets of books by, writers who used to drink there. Most of them wouldn’t be able to afford a cocktail there now, let alone dinner...

...Now, instead of atmosphere, Chumley’s has décor; the book jackets and photographs are elements in a haunted house attraction featuring the ghosts of Hemingway and Kerouac. The neighbors sleep better, but the neighborhood isn’t as interesting."

Here's when it used to be (minute mark 1:43). Pour one out.

before the collapse